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Colombia hires Democrat-connected lobby firm to woo skeptical U.S. Congress on trade deal

Colombia hires Democrat-connected lobby firm to woo skeptical U.S. Congress on trade deal

President Alvaro Uribe's staff has hired a Washington lobbying firm with close ties to U.S. Democrats ahead of a visit Wednesday to Capitol Hill to defend his scandal-tainted government before a skeptical Congress.
Uribe hopes this week to revive an important trade deal and maintain a strong military aid package for his country _ the U.S. administration's staunchest ally in Latin America.
Last month, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore snubbed Uribe by backing out of a Miami environmental forum. Gore said he did not want to appear with Colombia's leader until opposition charges that Uribe colluded with right-wing paramilitary groups are sufficiently answered.
As the "para-politico" scandal inched ever closer to Uribe, his government in early April hired The Glover Park Group lobbying firm, whose founders include former Clinton White House spokesman Joe Lockhart and several one-time Gore strategists, for US$40,000 (euro29,400) a month.
The mission: To help Uribe rescue his biggest foreign policy achievement, a free trade agreement signed in November that U.S. Democrats are refusing to ratify.
Colombian and Glover Park officials confirmed the lobbying deal but declined to discuss details.
After a breakfast meeting Wednesday with U.S. President George W. Bush, Uribe's trip is packed full of visits with more than a dozen Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means committee that oversees trade issues.
Many oppose not just the trade deal _ out of concern for potential U.S. job losses and Colombia's poor record of protecting union leaders _ but also the military focus of Plan Colombia, the anti-narcotics and counterinsurgent program that has cost American taxpayers more than US$5 billion (euro3.68 billion) since 2000.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, last month froze US$55 million (euro40.4 million) in aid to Colombia's military over concerns about its human rights record and alleged failure to sever ties to the paramilitaries.
Uribe is also to meet with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who wants to force Colombia through tighter language in the trade deal to fully investigate the killing of more than 1,300 trade unionists in the past decade.
"The odds of Colombia getting a free-trade agreement passed right now are very, very long," said Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington-based Center for International Policy. "The Democrats aren't feeling very disposed toward free trade to begin with, and Colombia's very dangerous climate for labor organizing complicates things a great deal more."
Ever since his landslide re-election last year, Uribe has been dogged by accusations that close political allies backed and benefited from the murderous right-wing militias. Eight pro-government lawmakers have already been arrested and, last month, opposition Sen. Gustavo Petro accused Uribe of turning a blind eye to the militias while governor of Antioquia state in the 1990s.
Petro also presented evidence that paramilitary groups planned murders on two ranches owned by Uribe's family.
Uribe denies the charges and is still widely esteemed at home for putting Latin America's most powerful leftist insurgency on the defensive and dramatically reducing one of the world's highest kidnapping and murder rates.
Colombia is the source of 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States and the country is the largest recipient of aid outside the Middle East and Afghanistan.


Updated : 2021-03-08 10:41 GMT+08:00